The Gulf Coast of Alabama and Florida has sugar-white sand that squeaks beneath your feet and water so blue it’ll make you cry. Plus, it’s as cheap as PBR. So grab your bikini and cutoffs — and leave your decorum at home. It ain’t called the Redneck Riviera for nothing.
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Hurricane Ivan smoothed some rough edges, and the view from your Beach Club balcony will take your breath away. (Catch it underneath an umbrella at ocean’s edge.) When you’re sick of sun, Captain Skip will motor you out on Wolf Bay and show you how to harvest shrimp, crabs, and oysters.
Start the day with Frisbee-size pancakes and mounds of corned beef hash at Tacky Jacks. Hit the Coffee Merchant for lunch (now closed). (You’ve never had panini so light.) The unassuming Sunset Cork Room serves the island’s best dinner: Shrimp Tiffany and Anna’s Bananas. Don’t even think of going to bed sober: One bushwacker at the famed Flora-Bama and you’ll be off for a moonlight dip.
Rosemary Beach, Florida
What’s lovelier than this carefully designed community? Until the hotly awaited Hotel Saba opens next spring, rent a cute carriage house or a five-bedroom “cottage.” The waves will be steps from your door.
Hopefully you picked up your personalized airbrushed car tag in Gulf Shores: This place is a titch more sophis. Score high-end home goods at Shabby Slips (850-231-4164) and Tracery (850-231-6755), toys and kiddie gear at Gigi’s (850-231-0110), and tropicalwear at Dunes (850-231-3602; now closed).
Then what? Gather picnic provisions at Wild Olives; rent a two-wheeler from Bamboo Bicycle Company (850-231-0770); and explore shady footpaths, boardwalks, and secret pathways. That’ll work up an appetite for a nap in a hammock and dinner at Cafe Thirty-A.
Panama City Beach, Florida
There’s more to PCB than MTV Spring Break. Like 27 miles of silky white sand (recently restored to perfection for $23.5 million). And cream-filled Long Johns from Thomas Donut & Snack Shop. Nothing tastes better on the beach as the morning sky turns pink. Or sleep in and feed the beast with a frittata at Andy’s Flour Power Bakery & Cafe (850-230-0014). Later, fill up on the fresh catch of the day at Barefoot Beach Club, where they say, “no shoes, no problem.”
You’ll be happier than a clam at high tide.
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